What does quality teaching look like in an early childhood classroom? Twenty-five years ago, it was providing a safe place for children to play, with stimulating materials and books to read. Today, we have provided those basics in most early childhood classrooms, and our focus has shifted to the hows of quality—how teachers interact with children, how they use time and materials to get the most out of every moment, and how they ensure that children are engaged and stimulated.
Let's imagine two classrooms down the hall from each other, both with the same high-quality materials and both with the same supportive leadership.
In the classroom with more effective interactions, the teachers are actively engaged with the children—being a “challenging customer” in the children’s pretend restaurant, encouraging children in the paint area to experiment with mixing colors, and helping a child brainstorm what to do while waiting for his turn on the computer. The children respond with deep engagement and eagerness to contribute their own ideas, and these everyday activities challenge them to engage in social problem solving, create and test hypotheses about the physical world, and learn to regulate their behavior.
In the less effective classroom, the teachers sit close to the children but take a less active role. Children are comfortable involving them in play, but the teachers miss opportunities to take interactions deeper. Some children pull basket after basket off the shelves, playing with each activity for a minute or two before moving on to the next. Others hover at the edges, not sure what to do. In between brief conversations with children, the teachers discuss their plans for the rest of the school day. The children are safe and comfortable but do not stay engaged with activities for long and seem to wander from one thing to the next.
In this example, you can easily see how the interactions in the first classroom lead to better learning opportunities for children. It's true—teachers face enormous distractions with paperwork, routine care, and packed schedules. But, some teachers manage to cut through these distractions to truly connect with children. That's important.
Research shows that these teachers have significant and lasting effects on outcomes. That's why we make teacher-child interactions objective and measurable with the CLASS tool. After all, it's interactions between teachers and children that fundamentally drive learning.
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There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
From coast to coast and around the globe, there’s a common thread that unites teachers: wanting to be better for their students.
Even when things are tough in education, educators are striving to be their best. Their dedication to equitable, ongoing development is what inspires Teachstone’s work. It will take a systematic, data-driven approach to reach the day when all children are afforded excellent education and care. And, we are enthusiastic partners in getting to that goal.
Hey there, Teachstone community! My name is Stephanie Lewandowski, and I am the Senior Product Manager for myTeachstone. Before joining Teachstone, I built digital products for education companies, financial institutions, and government agencies. I’m passionate about delivering impactful products, particularly the tools that make the everyday work of teaching and learning a little bit easier. As a parent, and as a product manager, I know how invaluable early childhood education is, and I’m inspired by the teachers in both my personal and professional life.
At Teachstone, our driving vision is to ensure every child experiences life-changing teaching. This mission is why we’re making a commitment to restabilize and improve education for every child, and every educator. And, we know that bringing this commitment to life requires providing education leaders with the support they need to not only face the current challenges, but that will propel towards the future of quality and equity.